An aggressively unpleasant man somehow lands a perfect series of gigs in this rudely funny documentary: first as a pounding rock drummer who revolutionized the field; then as a fearless, rage-filled polo player; and finally as an impatient interviewee. Ginger Baker, 73, is never without his cigarette and shades, reclining on his South African horse farm, surrounded not by rock luxury but the stale air of spent fortunes and mistreated women. He strikes documentarian Jay Bulger (also the author of a classic Rolling Stone profile of Baker) in the face with his metal cane, bloodying him. It’s not exactly a father-son relationship. Still, the young journalist is undeterred, pushing him toward the old stories and misadventures.
And out they come, reshaped by Bulger via archival footage and sly animation into a testament to Baker’s musicianship, a gift he can articulate only as having “time.” The skinsman’s rumbling style, famously heard on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” coalesces into intricate patterns—the guy basically invented the modern drum solo, yet often neglected to tell his intimidated bandmates when one was coming. (Of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and the Who’s Keith Moon, the jazz-obsessed Baker says, “They couldn’t swing shit in a sack.”) Supporting chats are unflinching: Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and others speak of a gifted, troubled man. Heroin addiction, terrible parenting and verbal abuse are themes, as is the rough nature of genius. Baker tore a path through Africa and America, fleeing his responsibilities in a Range Rover. You’ll love the idea that someone like this deserves a movie, but with the whole of heavy metal in his debt, the honor is merited and handled with honesty.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
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